Tom Kornbilt is one of those 20-something, ambitious serial entrepreneurs who has embarked on a mission to change the world. Based in the hustle and bustle of New York City, he describes himself as a man who drinks a lot of coffee and burns the midnight oil to build his dreams.
Kornbilt used his Bank of America software engineering, programming and data analytics background to build technology meant to quickly scale anyone’s social media following overnight.
He calls this new venture Zeek, and believes it is indubitably the future of digital advertising.
We were curious to learn more about Kornbilt, given his interests and his background.
PA.O: What led you to creating Zeek?
Tom Kornbilt: Social media is this really up-and-coming sort of space. A lot of people don’t know too much about it or how to use social media. They’re users, and they’re more on the consumption side. Most people don’t see it from the larger perspective, from that of a corporation or an organization.
Most business people don’t really know how to incorporate social media into their business or leverage social media. They think only of Twitter and Facebook ads, and how to improve their click rate. I think there is an immense opportunity with social media in general for building trust, which is what companies really need to be doing.
I’ve actually created a systematic approach that’s completely automated, relevant and active, and ended up being very powerful for my business. When I came across this opportunity, I said, “Wow! I can’t really pass this up!”
So, I productized it. I valued and prioritized this, so now everyone can use this method. It’s effective and powerful, but it turned out not to be the best business. However, it’s proving itself now, it seems, to be a lot more successful. The difference is the level of abstraction. During the first go-round, I focused on just providing the tool. Now, I’m providing the management and the service to help companies get the results they want.
PA.O: In your opinion, how is programmatic advertising – the growing prevalence of automation, data analysis and data mining applied to marketing – changing the world?
Tom Kornbilt: Here is the thing: We are inherently data rich.
Social platforms work. There is a full second tier of platforms where you have question-based dialogue. These platforms cross a number of different industries. You even have social media networks coming out for just startups and investors.
What is useful about them is that we have all of this data on hand. From a business perspective, all of these social media platforms are devices that capture data. Because we’re moving towards the IoT (Internet of Things), we are going to be able to collect these data points in real time specific to particular industries because of these various platforms.
There is a tremendous opportunity that there wasn’t before. You started from “on the street” marketing to cold-calling and finally to cold-emailing people. Now, you can start a conversation on Twitter with someone. Today, we have server platforms, which are great ways of actually marketing to people.
With the data these people provide us, we can have sophisticated segmentation and targeting.
Something like a cold call becomes a whole lot warmer. You’re not blasting people. We have hyper targeting and hyper-segmentation. This is the merging of automated tools that will allow you to socialize.
With programmatic advertising and social media, people create a value for marketers but, at the same time, they create a value for themselves.
PA.O: From your perspective, what are some of the biggest areas in digital marketing that need work and investment? If you had $100 billion to invest in a marketing cause, where would it be?
Tom Kornbilt: I would say intelligent lead generation needs more work.
Your best bet today is to use platforms themselves for lead generation. You can use LinkedIn and find due prospects, you can prospect on Google or Twitter – you can touch someone via email, but there needs to be a better way of slicing and dicing information to find leads. The tools need to be better tooled.
However, retargeting is one way of gaining meaningful semantics based on clicks. You have to have the opportunity to find the audience and present an ad.
PA.O: How does marketing automation work with what you do?
Tom Kornbilt: We leverage Twitter communications. So, let’s say if I follow you, you can probably bet I’m a marketer or maybe a programmer. You can make these assumptions with the piece of information you know about the person. We target people on Twitter with automation. We have a tool that allows you to find these people, and then we follow them. Based on Twitter reciprocity, people will follow you if you follow them. With the reciprocity of marketing, we find people, follow them and then get many, many followers in return.
If you follow 1,000 people a day, 150-200 of them will follow you back. That’s basically unheard of. The very next day, we unfollow people who don’t follow us back.
PA.O: In your opinion, what’s the most effective way to advertise and market?
Tom Kornbilt: Being helpful is the biggest thing. When you respond, make sure you’re adding value. Make sure you’re punctual and helpful. That’s how you become successful – building trust by educating.
PA.O: We hear the term “add value” and “value-add” a lot. Unfortunately, it’s come to mean nothing since it’s so overused in marketing. Would you mind going into more detail as to what you mean by it?
Tom Kornbilt: The beautiful thing is it depends on who you are communicating with. If you are trying to reach a weightlifter, that value might be providing him with some muscle-building tips or supplements. The key is to make sure that you are segmenting appropriately. You never want to message someone with something that they couldn’t be interested in – ever.
In Twitter, when you find you’re sharing stuff, you want to keep that audience as similar as possible. If you follow large audiences, you can get them to tweet about things and not have them lose interest.
So, here are my tips:
- Have a very, very targeted audience.
- Emerge as the thought leader – this means making sure that you’re up to date on the latest trends.
- Constantly raise the bar – be a critical thinker and read every single day, if possible.
- Source the best content.
PA.O: How do you use big data to do what you do?
Tom Kornbilt: When you say analytics, the first thing that comes to mind is just a simple value add. Reporting is just a transparency for the process. Data is about trying to quantify the aggregate.
You have this huge pool of people in the world, and so, our jobs as marketers are to slice that into segments. Turn that big pool into a group of people based on their common interests. The only way to do that is by leveraging data – getting data that people provide, which comes in forms that maybe we can’t work with. That’s when we turn to data scientists.
You provide me with books you like on Facebook, tell me that you’re from Brooklyn, went to college and post a bunch of stuff about how you like to drink. How do we take that information and come up with a score, category or class? How do you group people into classes based on that information? It’s a huge process of taking a bunch of data across the Internet and cross-referencing it, scoring, grouping and then finally, engaging that segment. It’s a very, very piece-wise process.
PA.O: It certainly sounds like it. Where do you even get your data? There is so much of it, I would think it would be like drinking from a fire hose. Once you turn on the spigot, you would be flooded.
Tom Kornbilt: Yeah, you would think that there would be a single source … but given the emergence of various collection points, there are a variety of networks we call APIs, or Application Programming Interfaces.
There’s an emergence of tools across the different network profiles. I don’t know too many tools that bring all of that information into one source for you – it’s a huge overhaul. Someone may be big enough to tackle it one day, but for now, I get data by the APIs and fairly different social platforms.
PA.O: It sounds like there is a huge opportunity for that. Maybe this will be your next enterprise?
Tom Kornbilt: Ha! Maybe.
On the engagement side, companies are going to have to squeeze more data out of their users. That’s why Facebook acquired Instagram. They can take that data and add it to their repository.
Then, the next step is to then start aggregating that data across the multiple channels and coming up with a scoring mechanism on top of that. This would allow us to do some interesting work – some really cool behavioral segmentation. And, that’s how you do it folks.
Show me all of the male coffee drinkers who work late and live in New York City. You’d definitely find me in that segment!